The Rule in Rylands v Fletcher

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The Rule in Rylands v Fletcher by Mind Map: The Rule in Rylands v Fletcher

1. Rylands v Fletcher

1.1. The defendant mill owner employed an independent contractor to build a reservoir. Beneath this reservoir were some iron shafts that went through a mining area and which were connected to the plaintiff’s mine. The defendant did not know of the existence of these shafts and the contractors were negligent in not blocking the shafts. As a result, the plaintiff’s mine was flooded when the reservoir was filled with water. The plaintiff’s claims against the defendant under negligence, trespass to land, vicarious liability and nuisance failed, nevertheless, the court held the defendant liable.

2. Strict liability:

2.1. Liability imposed on the defendant without any proof of fault on his part.

2.2. The rule by Blackburn J in the Court of Exchequer Chamber:

2.2.1. “We think that the rule of law is that the person who for his own purpose brings on his land and collects and keeps there anything likely to do mischief if it escapes, must keep it in at his peril, and if he does not do so, is prima facie answerable for all the damage which is the natural consequence of its escape.” - The person who brings on his land and collects and keeps there anything likely to do mischief (cause danger) if it escapes, must keep it in at his own risk or else he will be answerable for all the damage arising from it.

3. ELEMENTS

3.1. Accumulation

3.1.1. Where “a person brings on his land and collects and keeps” things. - The accumulation must be deliberate. - Does not apply to things which are naturally accumulated on the land. - Giles v Walker: The court held the defendant not liable under the rule for the thistles that escaped to the plaintiff’s land as the accumulation of thistles were a part of the natural growth of the defendant’s land which had been left unattended. - Crowhurst v Amersham Burial Board: The court held the defendant liable under the rule for the death of the plaintiff’s cattle upon eating the leaves of a yew tree, which was intentionally planted and accumulated by the defendant.

3.2. For his own purpose

3.2.1. Only applies where the land upon which the dangerous thing is brought to is in the control of the defendant. - He must have accumulated the thing for his own purpose for which he has control over. - Does not apply where the thing is brought onto the defendant’s land by/for the use of another person. - Smith v Scott: The court held that although a homeless family disregarded their promise to behave in a rented house, the rule did not apply against the landlord of the tenants as the control of the house belongs with the tenants.

3.3. Likely to do mischief

3.3.1. The thing the defendant brought onto his land need not be dangerous. - However, the thing must be likely to cause damage if it escapes. - Only applies where the thing brought onto the land causes damage when it escapes. - E.g: Poisonous fumes, explosives, fire, gas, trees, water, sewage. - Ang Hock Tai v Tan Sum Lee & Anor: The court held the defendant liable under the rule for the death of the plaintiff’s family as the petrol which the defendant stored in his basement flat had caught fire and spread to the plaintiff’s home.

3.4. Escape

3.4.1. Where the thing has escaped from a place over which the defendant has control and authority to a place over which the defendant has no control and authority. - Where there has been no escape, the rule does not apply. - Read v Lyon: The court held the defendant not liable under the rule for the injury that the plaintiff suffered from an explosion of a manufactured shell within the defendant’s premise as there was no escape.

3.5. Non-natural use of land (Additional element by Lord Cairns in HOL)

3.5.1. Where upon the bringing or accumulating of the thing onto his land, the defendant makes a non-natural use of the land. - Rickards v Lothian: ‘Non-natural use’ according to Lord Moulton: “It must be some special use bringing with it increased danger to others and must not merely be the ordinary use of the land or such a use as is proper for the general benefit of the community.” - Cambridge Water Co Ltd v Eastern Counties Leather: The court held that under the rule, the storage and accumulation of a chemical, PCE, which had seeped through the concrete floor and caused damage to the plaintiff’s water supply, on industrial premises was a non-natural use of land.

3.6. Foreseeability of damage (Additional element from Cambridge Water in HOL)

3.6.1. For liability to arise escape and damage must be foreseeable or else the action under the rule will fail. - Cambridge Water Co Ltd v Eastern Counties Leather: The court held the defendant not liable as although the other five elements had been satisfied, it was not foreseeable for the defendant that the chemical, PCE, would seep through the concrete floor and damage the plaintiff’s water supply.

4. DEFENCES

4.1. Consent of the plaintiff

4.1.1. Where the plaintiff either expressly or impliedly consents to the existence of the dangerous thing and the defendant is not negligent in any way, the defendant will not be liable for any escape and resulting damage. - Implied consent: Where the presence of the thing offers some benefit to the plaintiff. - E.g: Water tanks.

4.2. Common benefit

4.2.1. Where the thing is accumulated/allowed to exist for the common benefit of both the plaintiff and the defendant.

4.3. Act of stranger/Act of third party

4.3.1. The unforeseeable act of a third party who is not under the defendant’s control. - Rickards v Lothian: The court held the defendant not liable under the rule for the damage caused towards the plaintiff’s stock as the water tap was turned on by an unknown person.

4.4. Act of God/Act of nature

4.4.1. Where the escape of the thing occurs through unforeseeable natural causes and without any human intervention. - E.g: Landslide, earthquake. - Nichols v Marsland: The court held the defendant not liable for the collapse of the artificial embankments and the damage of four bridges as it was caused by an exceptionally heavy thunderstorm which was not reasonably foreseeable and was an act of nature.

4.5. Default of the plaintiff/Contributory negligence

4.5.1. - Sec 12(1) Civil Law Act 1956: Where a claimant contributes to causing the escape of the dangerous thing, their damage can be reduced under the normal rules of contributory negligence. - Thus, damages awarded will be reduced proportionately. - Ponting v Noakes: The court held the defendant not liable under the rule as the leaves of the yew tree did not extend beyond the defendant’s boundary, and therefore, it was the default of the plaintiff when his horse reached its head into the defendant’s land to eat the poisonous leaves.

4.6. Statutory authority

4.6.1. Where a statute allowing the defendant to accumulate such things exist. - The defendant may escape liability under the rule if the terms of a relevant statute clearly authorises his actions. - Green v Chelsea Waterworks: The court held the defendant not liable under the rule even though the water main burst and flooded the plaintiff’s premises as the defendant was obliged by the statute to maintain a water supply and occasional bursts were inevitable.

5. Who can sue?

5.1. Anyone can maintain a claim under the rule provided that he has suffered some kind of damage. - The person need not have an interest in the land to institute an action.

6. Who can be sued?

6.1. The person responsible for the accumulation of the dangerous thing and has control over it at the time of the escape.

7. Remedies

7.1. Damages

7.1.1. ges - Damage to land and property. - Death or personal injury. - Hale v Jennings: The court granted damages to the tenant of a fairground who suffered injuries caused by an escape of a chair-o-plain from a roundabout. - Perry v Kendrick: The court granted damages to a ten-year-old boy who suffered injuries when a petrol tank of a disused bus exploded

7.2. INJNCTION

8. Alternative action: Where an action under the rule of Rylands v Fletcher fails, the plaintiff may bring an action under public nuisance, private nuisance (if he has an interest in the land) or negligence.